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Writing Challenge Day 23: Taking PTO and Going... Nowhere

Level 9

Pre-March 2020, I was one of those people who always had their next vacation booked and kept a running wish list of future trips. Staycationing was not a thing we did when I was growing up, nor a habit I developed as an adult. My husband and I love exploring the world, and over the years—between business trips and vacations—I’ve traveled to 35 states and 49 countries. Every year my husband and I would sit down and strategically plan out vacations for the following year to maximize our days off, as well as watch for the best airfares and hotel sales.

Then COVID-19 hit full-force, and everything changed. I’ve got asthma and we have chosen to not travel or stay in a hotel for a while. We cancelled a few business trips to SolarWinds headquarters in Austin for me, and vacations to New Orleans, New York City, and Costa Rica (this one was extra rough to cancel as it was to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary).

Although I love my job, I’m also firm believer in taking PTO to recharge and see the world. So we decided to staycation this year. And not our prior form of “staycation”—that would have been us checking into a hotel in DC (we live in Northern Virginia) for a weekend get-away. This would be a STAYcation. In our house. Where we already were staying.

Our first staycation was a three-day weekend and can best be described as a “failcation.” I dialed in for two work meetings, and checked email and Teams messages more times than I’d care to admit. I didn’t come back rested, and there was not a lot of Zen, but I did come out of it with a lot of thoughts on how to do better the next time. Art takes practice, right?

We had a second long weekend in June, where I actually stayed off email except first thing Friday morning, and spent the weekend more properly staycationing—sleeping in, catching up, trying out some new cocktail recipes, and virtual get-togethers with friends.

After that more successful “trip” around our house and finding a bit of staycation Zen, we decided it was time to come up with a list of ideas for future staycations, and to start planning two weeklong staycations. With each staycation we’ve gotten a little bit better, and although we aren’t off in a foreign country sightseeing, trying new food, and meeting new friends, we’re coming back to our home offices refreshed, and feeling like we’d had as close to a “real vacation” as we could get at home.

Our staycationing tips so far:

  • Plan for it as if you were taking a non-staycation vacation: block your calendar ahead of time, ensure you have coverage for your projects, your team knows how to team reach you, etc. All the things you’d normally do before getting on a plane or in your car to go somewhere.
  • Put your work computer somewhere out of sight. Lock it away in your home office if you have one or find an out-of-the-way spot, so it’s not lurking in the corner of your family room like mine normally is evenings and weekends.
  • If your job enables you to not be on call from vacation and you have a separate work cell phone, put that away with your computer. But make sure your team knows how to reach you in case there’s an emergency—you can always go grab it if there is one. If you don’t have a separate work cell phone, log out of your work email and whatever work instant messaging software you use, so you aren’t getting work notifications all staycation long. Or see if you can pause notifications during certain hours if that’s not possible with your job.
  • Make a staycation plan, similar to the way you like to plan your vacations. Some people like to wing it and decide a day at a time what to do. If that’s you, try staycationing that way. We like to make a schedule that’s not too rigid but factors in what museums, restaurants, cocktail bars, etc. are open when, so we have a general plan for each day, but not so structured that we can’t wander and have adventures. Our second staycation we got very into this and made a restaurant grid of what meals we were ordering in or getting to go on which day as if we were making restaurant reservations for a trip. This distracted us rather well from the fact that we weren’t lounging on a beach in Costa Rica celebrating our anniversary (well, mostly).
  • Change things up from your work at home routine—dress differently, maybe even stay in your PJs all day once in a while as you won’t have work video calls. Whatever makes you most Zen for your staycation. Or plan a fancier dress virtual cocktail hour with friends.
  • See what activities you can do close to home that are within your comfort levels during COVID-19. During our summer staycation, we did some outdoor local exploration of the botanical gardens near us. There’s lots of things to do near home most of us don’t make the time to do when we’re busy working.
  • Minimize housework (unless you love it and it’s relaxing, then go for it). You still have to do dishes, take out the trash, get the mail, walk the dog, etc. while staycationing. But if you’re like us and don’t love housework, leave the renovation projects, home repairs, mowing the lawn, and all those things for when you’re back from vacation.
  • Create some staycation rituals or recreate some of your vacation rituals at home. A lot of our vacation traditions don’t quite translate to a staycation, so we’ve been creating new ones. We’ve been saving TV shows to binge watch, and starting our first morning on vacation with Irish Coffee.

Although we’ve been enjoying our staycations, we can’t wait to travel and keep adding to our travel wish list every time we read about somewhere new. Until then, we’ll keep saving our hotel and airline points, and asking people for their staycation ideas for inspiration.

How have you been finding staycation Zen? Any tips you can share?

Level 11

Nice thoughts @lmsherwin. BTW, In what part of NoVA should I wave as a pass through it? I'm across the Potomac from you, so drive in Virginia frequently.

I am right now taking PTO, since I cannot carry it over anyway. I am still on-call.Had my managers not canceled their conference calls for the week, I'd still be on them. There's no *cation since my wife is working from our dining room and business needs have prevented her from using her leave, and I have to cram for and schedule an exam before the end of the year.

I had better go put on a pot of coffee ....


Thanks @lmsherwin ...   Sadly I am losing my PTO for the year.   I was not able to take any.   I did have a mandatory 2 week furlough as did the entire IT department some ranging as much as 90 days.    For me I was in the very first round so it was done and over.   A 2 week unpaid vacation so to speak.   That aside I have had to only take time for medical items with my family.  rest assured I wanted to take the time, but my programs I lead are at critical points and there is simply not enough sunlight or night time to get things done.  SO alas no staycation or vacation.   Although my wife and I did sneak away for a weekend, it was only barely 2 days.

Level 11

@jeremymayfield you NEED to take your PTO for rest or fun.  if you don't, more of those medical days will be needed.  Were those "barely 2 days" the best 2 days of the year for you?

@tphelps01 they were.   It was two days 1 night away.   I know I need to.   It was my intention, just never materialized.   And to be honest.   My Wife and I were going to go to Montana for a music festival in July, but well you know.  The Covd thing sorta hampered those plans.  

Level 14

@lmsherwin great points on PTO..... Time for yourself is critical in keeping balance in your life.

This year was supposed to be a trip to the Outer Banks with my camper. (We've rescheduled.... TBD.  @rschroeder  if I do it.... I'll send pix and details). I am fortunate that as I have a travel trailer(s) (yes two!, I am hard core!) One stays on a seasonal campground site on the beach in Southern Maine (20 minutes from house!!!!!) and the other we go off and explore...(in the past couple of years, DC, Lake George, Myrtle Beach, South of Boston, Williamsburg VA...) It's how I plan my PTO... can't wait to hit the road.

Level 18

"Vacation" is, for me, the best example of how one word can be perceived so differently by two people.

My wife's parents owned a travel agency. She was born in Spain. She has two brothers adopted from Columbia.She looks forward to vacations the way a 6 yr old looks forward to their birthday. She plans with the passion and detail of a military operation. She wastes not a single minute of time. She savors every moment.

On the other hand...

I did not grow up in a family that 'cationed well. Dad was a musician and traveled *a lot* (I've written about that before: and was therefore burned out by travel. He was completely uninterested in spending his leisure time going to see Mexico or the Grand Canyon. Our biggest vacations were interminable car rides: Home -> Mom's family -> Dad's family -> Dad's best friend -> Home.So when I got married, "vacation" was synonymous in my mind with "suffering in silence".

Functionally, this means I am completely enchanted by the act of travel (anything that doesn't require me to share the back seat of a station wagon with my brothers) but unexcited by the idea of vacationing. While my wife could happily spend the rest of her life never getting on a plane, but eagerly looks forward to every vacation opportunity that presents itself.

This is something we have navigated our entire married life, sometimes to greater or lesser success. But it also means that our experiences of this pandemic - specifically the "stay" and "cation" parts of it - have been markedly different.

It also means that once we've cleared the worst of this, and like so many other things in life, we'll have to re-evaluate and re-calibrate.

Level 9

mjperkins I'm not far from the SolarWinds Reston office.  We just moved last quarter from Herndon to by the Reston Wiehle metro station.  Post-COVID you'll have to drop in and visit us!  And good luck with the studying.

@jeremymayfieldI completely get that, I was working 7 days a week for some very long stretches earlier this year. Even if it's just treating a Saturday or a regular weekend like a vacation to give yourself a break can do a world of good. I hope you are able to find a day or two to "get away" soon.

gfsutherland Thanks. I admit, there are points in time where the balance in life may skew towards all work all the time, but eventually I need to take some time to recharge.  And wow, two travel trailers! I'm sure you can't wait to be able to hit the road at some point.

adatole I get like your wife about my vacations! And I'm like a kid in a candy store when I get to explore a new place.  Until then I'll try and get extra excited about new streaming content.

Level 9

I had a vacation planned for May this year. It was going to be my husband's first time in Europe. I had everything meticulously planned out, where we were going on what day, what metro stops to get on and off at, Rick Steves' recommendations for where to eat, the whole shebang. Well... you all can guess how that vacation went.

I've been able to get a couple of staycation days in - it's been nice to be able to sleep in a little bit, spend the day playing video games or working on a fun project. 

In a few weeks we'll actually be taking a long weekend away at a B&B for our anniversary. We're not going far - only about 20 miles from home. But I feel like those 20 miles are going to make a world of difference!

Level 9

allison.rael  They will make a world of difference.  I hope you have a wonderful anniversary trip!

Level 13

As a kid, we had a few BIG vacations where we went to the Grand Canyon or Disney World - and my mom meticulously planned that stuff out - stress for her where my dad was like a kid in a candy store (along with random time working...always working...even on vacation). My dad is like a whole different person on the point that as kids he got a nickname for that mood - "Vacation Daddy". lol

As an adult, first I was a normal struggling kid...I left college and started working retail. I couldn't afford much of anything, much less a vacation. Then, I had my kid still in that situation, so I didn't even THINK about vacations until he got a bit older and I got settled into a better job with better pay. Then, all of our vacations were used to visit family. At the time, my brother lived in Alabama and my dad lived in that's where all of that time went. It was always time well spent, though.

Then, I got divorced, which put another damper on thinking about vacations as I reevaluated my finances, spending habits, etc. at the loss of a second income. This all worked out in my favor, tbh. Early this year, we were starting to plan some fun vacations, and of course that is out the window for now.

I will say, that I am a master at staycationing. Even my honeymoon (from the previously mentioned ended marriage) was a staycation, those two broke kids couldn't afford a real honeymoon. I consider camping to be a great "staycation" even if its just in the backyard with the kids or even if you just "camp out" in your living room. I am so lucky to consider it very easy to switch out of work mode. I have never worked on-call (on purpose), and because my dad always worked on vacation as a kid I made a vow that I would never be that way as an adult. So far, I have been successful. My team members have my cell if something really comes crashing down <cough>, but it is understood that I want to keep my PTO separate unless there is an emergency.

My advice for a restful staycation:

  • Don't log into social at all. For your sanity.
  • Take the time for some tabletop games with the family/roommate/whoever you live with - or play them online. link for reference
  • Play a video game or two, why not? As an avid gamer, I have games that stress me out, games that are very involved, and games that are easy to pick up and put down as needed. Make the right choice for what you need/want at the time.
  • Turn off your alarm
  • watch that movie or tv show you have been recommended and thinking about, but haven't made time for
  • If you like to cook/bake, do it! I know it is relaxing for many people...and on that note...
  • take a day off from your diet... Treat yo self
  • Don't let anyone tell you you are doing it wrong! Whatever relaxes/resets you is good. 😀



Level 9

ChrystalT Thanks for the great tips! I'm a staycation beginner. Not setting an alarm makes such a difference for me too.

Level 16

Personally I love 'StayCations'. Last summer I took a week off and put in a 50' by 50' rose bed for the wife. It was beautiful all summer and now for many years we can enjoy it. While it was work, it wasn't my normal 'work' work so I found it quite enjoyable and relaxing. 


I was fortunate that my parents bought some property on the Delaware shore eons ago and built a little house when prices were reasonable. So that wonderful little place in a town where it never gets crowded was our escape many times this year. Ocean swimming, canoeing, kayaking, biking, crabbing, outdoor movies... we rarely ate a meal indoors. It was wonderful. I've been thanking my parents everyday for over 30 years for making that decision to buy that plot of land. I even worked from there for most of the summer. It felt like vacation like working!

Now I can't wait until next spring for when I can open the house back up and head down again...

Level 9

bobmarley That sounds like a lovely staycation! 

Level 9

  That sounds like a wonderful place to escape to!


Nice write up @lmsherwin 

This year i wont be taking a PTO, since i have a mandatory holiday on 25th Dec and 1st of Jan i would be taking an off on these 2 days.

Stay home, sleep a little bit more than what i usually do, watch a movie maybe, have some good food and thats it - Hopefully things are back to normal in 2021.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - have a good one 🙂

Like many of you, I've had incentive to use stay-cations to burn up PTO in recent years--and not just due to COVID-19, although it's an EXCELLENT incentive to do right by my community, family, and myself.

My PTO started growing pretty quickly due to me staying with the same company for many years.  My wife changed companies a few years ago, and her PTO lagged behind mine.  

So, I'd take vacations without her.  But they'd be spent in the local area, usually fishing all day on local lakes, and back at home by dark in the evening.  My employer allowed me to carry a lot of PTO hours over each year, and I'd save them up so I could take six or eight weeks of time off each summer--a limited commodity season here in northern Minnesota, and I love to spend the days when the water isn't frozen solid boating & exploring lakes & islands, as well as fishing.

It was nice to be able to refresh my mental health by being away from work, and not spending a lot of money traveling.

Level 9

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

What great PTO planning!  My husband often has time off while I'm still working and then we spend evenings together.